When it comes to organizational structures, there may be no better guide than General George C. Marshall. He was the Chief of Staff under FDR who coordinated all of the United States’ military efforts across both theaters of war during WWII, and then went on to orchestrate what became known as the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe in the aftermath.
Much has already been written about General Marshall’s exceptional ability to lead and to build command structures that have a healthy ‘operational tempo.’ As it pertains to hospitality, the pandemic gutted the organizational structure of many hotels, leaving them in limbo when it comes to advancing projects that will help reassert a property’s revenue-generating abilities. Staffing up and dealing with erratic demand are top hotel objectives right now, but other initiatives still need to be pursued regardless of how lean your hotel staff is running.
However, hospitality’s hierarchal problems were already festering long before the virus brought us to our knees. Before we get to General Manager Marshall’s plan for a better hotel organizational structure, let’s examine the key issues.
Two Structural Problems
Firstly, hotels have long suffered from the inefficiencies of meeting paralysis. Often, a lack of departmental autonomy or middle manager power has compelled senior executives to attend every single conference call and be carbon-copied on every email thread. Despite your own personal experiences, science shows humans are horrible multitaskers. So, the more people meet, the less real work actually gets done.
The pandemic compounded this problem via the proliferation of videoconferences. Making meeting access more convenient has resulted in more meetings and more people attending those meetings who should otherwise be sequestered away, revising SOPs or updating rates.
Secondly, and related to the lack of team empowerment, is a risible misinterpretation of the contemporary push for ‘flatter’ organizational structures. In other industries, flat has meant more cross-departmental chatter and less siloed projects to serve broader company goals. Many hotels have made their corporate structures flatter by simply cutting out a few middle rungs on the ladder and having everyone report directly to the general manager (or another equivalent position).
This in turn makes the GM the one and only stop-gap for decision making, leading to stalled implementation and, ultimately, stagnating revenues. In such a pseudo-flat structure, operational tempo is compromised because every morsel of approval rests with the GM instead of department directors who are empowered to take their own actions that fit within predefined objectives and KPIs.
Compounding this misconception of ‘flat’ is often an entanglement of responsibilities at the very top of the ladder – that is, overlapping authority among the GM, owner, asset manager and other members of the executive committee. Yes, these stakeholders need to regroup frequently to decide on a strategic vision and long-term asset growth plan, but select operations must be defined according to who has the final word.
Again and again, we see hotels reach lackluster results in large part because ownership meddles in the day-to-day, reversing or obfuscating briefings given by the GM or another senior team leader. Contrarily, some of the best-run properties are those where the owners are entirely hands-off. They outline RevPAR growth goals, PIP allocations and executive hiring, but the rest is laissez faire.
With the pandemic forcing us to maintain skeleton crews and unable to staff up, we need to be at maximal productivity in order to pivot to meet all the coming changes to our industry.
GM Marshall’s Plan
Key to Marshall’s success was his mandate for simple objectives moving down the chain of command as well as concise reporting going up. There was no point in sending up a detailed recommendation or after-action report longer than about three pages because it would be a waste of time for the superior officer to read it. Ditto for commands; it wasn’t the general’s job to loiter over one of their colonels, but to summarize the directive and let that colonel interpret the optimal actions for achieving that goal.
How would General Marshall run a hotel if he were a GM? His strategic choices might include:
Fewer meetings. Managers have to be given leeway to not attend or, at the very least, question why their attendance is absolutely necessary. If a concrete answer can’t be given, then said manager should maintain the right to say, without judgment, that they ‘have real work to do’ or that they can’t join ‘for their own sanity’. This starts by nurturing a culture of honesty. An organization running on fear will prevent these blunt-yet-legitimate questions from being asked. This also means having the proper methodology in place to share and review concise documents because, oftentimes, the meeting may not be necessary in the first place.
Shorter meetings. The only meeting without an agenda should be a happy hour roundtable with scotch in hand. Sticking to an agenda, by itself, can turn an hour-long discussion into a half hour. Again, a culture of honesty means that any attendee should be able to politely say, “Can we get back on track here?” But just as important: tardiness should be a criminal offense. If there are four people on a call and one key person is late by five minutes, that’s 15 minutes of lost productivity.
Idea: call the meeting a ‘standup,’ limited to half an hour, no more. Regularly scheduled, these short bursts become productive ways of maintaining communications without an HR resource drag.
Define and empower your roles. If every team member knows exactly what they are responsible for, what projects they must champion and what level of autonomy they have, more gets done and faster. The easiest way to complete this at the managerial level is to write job descriptions and review those lists with the affected team members so that it’s clear and that modifications can be made.
At the ECOM level, roles must be clarified so that the meddling problem is negated, while delegation must also be mandated as a core part of a leader’s skill set. No topic or scenario within any discussion should ever be adjourned without a key person assigned to resolve any outstanding issues.
If you want to learn more about General Marshall and how his leadership style can help your hotel, you’re but one internet search or book purchase away. For now, understand that, coming out of the pandemic, the pace of change within the hospitality industry is only going to accelerate. If your organization is too slow to adapt and implement new programs to meet these new trends, then you’ll be leaving much-needed revenue on the table. A clear chain of command with departments that are actually empowered to act on their own is the only way forward for the decade ahead.
About the Author
Together, Larry and Adam Mogelonsky represent one of the world’s most published writing teams in hospitality, with over a decade’s worth of material online. As the partners of Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited, a Toronto-based consulting practice, Larry focuses on asset management, sales and operations while Adam specializes in hotel technology and marketing. Their experience encompasses properties around the world, both branded and independent, and ranging from luxury and boutique to select-service.